Westerville residents could be opening higher utility bills come January.

Westerville residents could be opening higher utility bills come January.

Westerville City Council heard three ordinances at its Oct. 16 meeting that separately would raise water, sewer and trash collection rates.

If approved, the water rate increase would be on a graduated scale, based on usage. Those at the minimum rate, using less than 2 cubic feet a month, would see an increase of 6.1 percent -- from the current $4.90 per cubic foot to $5.20 per cubic foot; heavy users who use more than 100 cubic feet a month would see an increase of 11.2 percent -- from $1.07 per cubic foot to $1.19 per cubic foot.

The average user, who consumes 7 cubic feet a month, would incur a 9.1 percent increase, with their monthly water bill increasing by $1.51, from $16.59 to $18.10.

The rate increases are planned to fund an $11.3-million overhaul of the city's water treatment plant. Officials say the work is necessary for the city to comply with new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

"All (water rates) are going to be rising because of the new standards for drinking water," said City Council Chairman Mike Heyeck.

To completely cover the cost of the water treatment plant improvements, the city would have to raise water rates by $4.25 per month for the average customer, Water Division Manager Dick Lorenz told council previously.

The division is able to phase in rate increases because of its reserve funds and because of low borrowing rates to fund the project, Lorenz said.

With the rate increase, the city still will have the lowest average water bills in central Ohio, with customers in Columbus -- which has the next lowest rates -- paying an average of about $25 per month, Lorenz told council Oct. 16.

Separately, sanitary sewer rates would increase by 2 percent, under the proposed legislation before council.

The average residential sewer rate would increase to $43.57 from the current $42.73 monthly.

The monthly rate for the first 2 cubic feet would rise from $8.49 to $8.66, and for each cubic foot over 200 cubic feet, from $5.15 to $5.25.

The sewer increase reflects a 1 percent increase in charges by the city of Columbus, which provides sanitary sewer service to Westerville, being passed through to Westerville users. The additional 1 percent would to help cover increases in operating costs, said Westerville Finance Director Lee Ann Shortland.

The city's sewer fund operated at an estimated $32,000 loss this year to help keep rates lower for customers, Shortland said.

"We have been absorbing some of the cost for the sewer fund, utilizing some of the fund balance," she said.

Trash collection bills also are going up -- 1.41 percent or a 25 cents a month -- if council approves the change.

The proposed increase would push refuse collection bills for residents to $18 a month, from the current $17.75.

Rumpke, the city's contractor for refuse collection services, will not increase its rates for 2013. But the city has been seeing an additional $1 per customer per month cost to cover for state and fuel surcharges, Shortland said.